Whether one’s vice is golf, skiing or catching some rays, properties with a resort lifestyle never go out of style.
By Roger Grody
Resort living is something luxury homebuyers are constantly chasing, and nothing conveys the vacation lifestyle more than a graceful estate lining a manicured fairway, an alpine villa perched amidst majestic slopes or a lavish oceanfront home. Whether you are a passionate golfer, skier or somebody that loves the resort lifestyle without ever hitting the links, slopes or beach, luxury buying opportunities abound.
Big Island Golf
With six oceanfront holes, a round of golf at the Rees Jones-designed course at Hawaii’s Kohanaiki transforms the game into an almost spiritual experience. People who want to purchase a piece of this Big Island paradise have varied options, from townhomes starting at about $3 million to custom estates pushing well past the $20 million mark. Situated on a full mile-and-a-half of the Kona Coast, the 450-acre private community is essentially self-sufficient, with its own beach club and soon-to-be-completed 67,000-square-foot clubhouse incorporating a luxurious spa and fitness center, fine dining, movies, and bowling.
Erika Alm, Kohanaiki’s vice president of sales and marketing, reports a strong market for both lots and homes on the Big Island, with $3 million-plus transactions in the second quarter, exceeding the same quarter of last year and besting Maui or Kauai. “Kohanaiki, the first new development of its kind on Hawaii’s Big Island in more than a decade, represents an evolution of the private club experience,” says President and CEO Joe Root. “It instills a welcoming, relaxed and comfortable lifestyle that is reflected in the warm and genuine attentiveness of the staff and a true sense of community among members,” he adds.
Alm reports that the majority of Kohanaiki’s owners come from the U.S., but members hail from Canada, Japan, China, and Europe as well. Currently offered at the resort is a spectacular 6,808-square-foot custom home with ocean and golf course views, priced at $22.5 million.
Pam Ausley of RE/MAX Southern Homes specializes in the under-the-radar resort lifestyle market in Birmingham, Alabama, a cosmopolitan city with a vibrant culinary and arts scene. The properties at Shoal Creek Club — the Jack Nicklaus-designed course has hosted two PGA Championships and is gearing up for the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open — appeal to a diverse pool of buyers, many of whom have no interest in golf.
“It’s so quiet and beautiful, it feels like you’re on vacation all the time,” says Ausley, who reminds buyers of Shoal Creek’s mountain views and proximity to downtown Birmingham, tranquil lakes and even white-sand beaches on the Gulf Coast. Second home buyers include University of Alabama alumni who have scattered across the country but want to be in town during football season.
Prices for Shoal Creek properties begin at less than $1 million, but one of Ausley’s current listings is a palatial 50,000-square-foot, French-inspired estate offered at $9.9 million. Approximately 65 undeveloped home sites, all at least an acre in size, remain, including some along the storied golf course’s fairways.
“The luxury market has been strong this year, with prices getting very close to what they were before the recession,” says Ausley, who indicates sustained demand for properties in the $2 million-plus segment. She also reports a booming market at Lake Martin, a more rustic resort setting about 90 minutes away, popular with boaters and water skiers.
Coto de Caza, a 5,000-acre gated, master-planned community in Orange County, California, offers 36 holes of Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed golf — one championship-caliber course, another more user-friendly — plus world-class tennis and equestrian facilities. “Coto de Caza offers the opportunity to live in a retreat, with prices per square foot much less than coastal communities like Newport Beach or Laguna Beach,” reports veteran broker Mariann Cordova of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties, who resides in the community herself. She reports a consistent market there, with properties under $2 million very hot, but prices for higher-end properties remaining 5-10 percent below their pre-recession peaks.
Most homes in Coto de Caza are sold as primary residences, with some buyers moving from the Orange County coast in search of golf and equestrian estates with greater privacy. In terms of international interest, some Chinese buyers have discovered the community, as well as European retirees. A French country estate on nearly 3 acres, with 7,600 square feet of casually elegant living space, is currently offered by Cordova at $7.995 million.
There are few places in America that showcase resort living more than Florida, a state defined by its mild climate, golf, watersports, and yachting. One of the Sunshine State’s most unique real estate opportunities is Useppa Island on the Gulf Coast near Fort Myers. The private island — its entire 100 acres are listed on the National Register of Historic Places — oozes Old Florida charm, complete with a romantic inn, restaurant, marina, and collection of gracious vacation homes offered at about a 50-percent discount to the mainland.
Mary and Brian McColgan live on the island most of the year and specialize in its upscale real estate market, which appeals to those who want to leave the crowds and traffic behind. “Buyers are attracted by the location on the Intracoastal Waterway, the lush tropical foliage and the laid-back, slower pace of life,” says Mary McColgan, who adds that the market is not as high-pitched as the Florida mainland, about a 13-minute boat ride away. Currently offered on Useppa Island for $1.349 million is a 5,000-square-foot estate with a private dock and sweeping ocean views. McColgan reports a “youthification” trend occurring on the island, in which younger families, some with long-range retirement plans in mind, are now buying. “We’re unique among vacation destinations because we’re a real community,” she insists.
Home to West Virginia
West Virginia is underrated as a resort destination, but anybody who has spent a night at The Greenbrier, one of the world’s premier hotels, knows of the state’s splendor. Luxury travelers make a trek to the White Sulphur Springs resort — about a four-hour scenic drive from Washington, D.C. — for world-class golf, exceptional dining and horseback riding.
The Greenbrier Sporting Club provides real estate opportunities throughout 11,000 rolling, wooded acres surrounding the resort. Explaining that The Greenbrier has been a family tradition for generations, Sporting Club Vice President and General Manager Larry Klein reports many legacy buyers. He explains these are people who fell in love with the hotel as children and now want their own families to enjoy that lifestyle. “And now some of their kids are starting to buy properties of their own,” says Klein, who reports lots are priced from approximately $300,000 while homes range from $1 million to $5.9 million. Sporting Club members, according to the seasoned manager, represent more than 30 states, tend to be active and relatively young, and stay an average of six weeks per year.
Fifteen different neighborhoods are available, each with their own personalities, says Klein, who maintains, “We have homes and activities for everybody, and we build amenities to complement everything the hotel has.” Currently under construction is Oakhurst, a new neighborhood where four masters — Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Arnold Palmer, and Gary Player — are collaborating on a golf course for the first time. Greenbrier Sporting Club homebuyers are required to purchase a residential membership, which provides free access to the hotel’s golf courses and pools, plus discounts on other services and activities.
Park City, Utah, welcomed the 2002 Winter Olympics, but it was discovered long before by creative individuals of all kinds, from chefs to movie directors. The setting for the Sundance Film Festival, Park City is known for luxury estates as majestic as the mountains soaring above them. The community is extremely accessible to Salt Lake City, whose burgeoning technology industry (dubbed “Silicon Slopes”) is affecting the Park City luxury market and making it more of a year-round community.
Nancy Tallman of Summit Sotheby’s International Realty reports, “In most segments of the Park City market, prices are back to their peaks, but in the luxury market there are still some opportunities to pick up properties at relative discounts.” Condominiums are a major component of the luxury market in Park City, including strong sales of units at resorts like the St. Regis, Montage and Waldorf Astoria. Those currently available at the rustic-chic Montage Deer Valley are priced between $2.8 million and $9.25 million.
Tallman states that only about 5 percent of her sales are to international buyers, but expects that to change now that Vail Resorts Inc., has acquired and merged two of Park City’s ski resorts and is marketing the destination around the world. Noting that Salt Lake City International Airport offers nonstop flights to Europe, Tallman suggests, “Wait until they see how easy it is here. They can land at Salt Lake and be at the slopes in half an hour!”
Scott Maizlish, also of Summit Sotheby’s International Realty, reports Park City buyers appreciate the resort destination’s more laid-back vibe. Despite a plentiful selection of $10 million-plus properties, Park City is not quite as flashy as Aspen, prompting Maizlish to joke, “Our real estate isn’t expensive enough for Aspen buyers.” But he adds, “People who come to Park City are attracted to a more low-ley, under-the-radar lifestyle…. You don’t buy here to be seen.” For luxury buyers, Park City compares favorably with Vail or Breckenridge, as well as Lake Tahoe and Squaw Valley.
Maizlish reports many buyers who could afford a large chalet opt instead for the no-hassle concierge service offered through residential units associated with resort hotels like Montage Deer Valley. He cites Old Town Park City, a cosmopolitan neighborhood where prices average about $1.7 million, as a particularly hot market. “I’m also seeing more primary home buyers than I have in a decade,” reports the veteran agent, who attributes much of that to Salt Lake City’s emergence as a world-class city and Utah’s robust economy. One of Maizlish’s current listings is a spectacular ski-in/ski-out property with more than 13,000 square feet of rustic elegance, priced at $7.1 million.
The Colony at White Pine Canyon is genuine luxury mountain living, with large lots and breathtaking scenery, but is still within reach of Park City’s more cosmopolitan pursuits. The 4,600-acre development was planned for 274 homesites that range in size from 4 to 113 acres, and the 41 remaining lots are priced from $1.7 million to $2.9 million. “We’re a ski-in/ski-out resort and what makes us unique is the setting, which is heavily forested,” says Bob Marsh of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Utah Properties, who adds, “You don’t hear this often in the real estate business, but we like being the best-kept secret.”
To date, about 150 custom homes have been erected at The Colony, averaging 8,000-to-9,000 square feet with architecture ranging from alpine rustic to über-contemporary. The development’s front gate is only five minutes from downtown Park City, and skiers can catch a gondola from The Colony to a slope from which they can literally ski into town. Among the custom homes on the market is a 15,743-square-foot stone-and-timber estate nestled onto more than 5 acres of pristine wooded mountain land, offered at $18.7 million.
Skiing may have originally put Aspen on the map, but this alpine jewel has evolved far beyond skiing and snowboarding. The affluent Colorado enclave is also a mecca for foodies, music lovers, golfers, and cyclists, with winter being only part of the fun. The common denominator motivating Aspen’s eclectic visitors is a genuine resort lifestyle amidst breathtaking natural beauty. Brian Hazen of Coldwell Banker Mason Morse emphasizes that year-round attraction of the city, explaining, “Aspen is a true community that has become a resort, unlike some resorts that have sprung up and are trying to be communities.”
Larry Jones of Sotheby’s International Realty is known for matching well-heeled international buyers to awesome alpine properties in Aspen, with a geographic emphasis on Snowmass Village. He reports that the first half of 2016 was disappointing, with a substantial drop in both dollar volume and number of transactions from the same period in 2015. Hazen confirms a relatively sluggish start to 2016 but reminds us that 2015 was a record-breaking year and reports a significant uptick of activity in July and August.
“In the most desirable areas, prices have come back to 2005-2006 levels, but there are still pockets of opportunity that are really exciting,” says Hazen, emphasizing attractive prices for large outlying properties. Among his listings is a 13,863-square-foot estate on about 20 acres in Woody Creek 8 miles out of town, priced at $26.5 million.
“One segment demonstrating strength is the entry level luxury market ($1.5 million to $2 million), fueled by families attracted to the outstanding Aspen schools,” reports Jones. Downtown condominium development is heavily regulated by the city, resulting in tight inventory and a strong market that tends to be less volatile than the large villas, says Hazen. Studios can be acquired for less than $1 million, but penthouses have sold for upwards of $20 million.
With a full calendar of events like the Aspen Music Festival, Aspen Food & Wine Classic and ongoing sessions at The Aspen Institute, Jones is prompted to comment, “It probably feels more crowded in the summer than the winter.” Anxiety over exchange rates, oil prices and stock market volatility have dampened some international enthusiasm, but Jones reports sustained buyer interest from Brazil, Mexico and Australia. Typical of his listings is a 6,000-square-foot ski-in/ski-out mountain home in Snowmass Village, offered at $7.95 million.
Just a two-hour flight from Los Angeles, but a million miles away in spirit, is Cabo San Lucas, on the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. In addition to world-class sport fishing, great food and tequila, and some extraordinary resort hotels, Cabo is a hot real estate market for luxury vacation home buyers. Vanessa Fukunaga, president and CEO of Snell Real Estate — a licensee of worldwide powerhouse Engel & Völkers, Snell is the most dominant luxury broker in Baja — reports a strong, sustainable market. “We’re seeing a very healthy, stable and steadily increasing market,” she says, noting robust demand from throughout the Western U.S. and Canada, as well as affluent Mexican buyers.
Snell Partner Andrew Lemke adds, “We’ve experienced a huge amount of growth in the last six months,” citing luxury hotels and residential properties recently breaking ground. Fukunaga is excited about the flurry of resort-affiliated condominiums under construction, which she reveals is a rapidly growing segment of the luxury market. Observing that these new condos complement a lifestyle with 14 area golf courses and a unique environment where the desert meets the sea, she quips, “You can dine at a restaurant from a Michelin-starred chef or at a local taquería.”
Lemke reports that prices have almost entirely rebounded from the effects of the recession, but that the current market is less frenzied and speculative than in 2006-07. Although the popularity of condominium living is increasing, most luxury buyers still prefer single-family homes in gated communities offering plentiful resort amenities and concierge services. Representative of those developments is Discovery Land Company’s Chileno Bay Golf & Beach Club, which offers Tom Fazio-designed waterfront golf, a sandy beach, upscale dining, and a waterpark for kids.
Among Cabo’s luxury estates is Casa Playa, with 7,000 square feet of Mediterranean elegance perched on a bluff overlooking the beaches of neighboring Palmilla, currently offered by Snell Real Estate at $10.5 million. “It is absolutely paradise,” proclaims Fukunaga of her adopted Cabo San Lucas, who adds, “A luxury unit provides a good return on investment but, more importantly, what you’re really buying into is a lifestyle.”